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HakimBey Islam

HakimBey Islam

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Published by Abu Ali

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Published by: Abu Ali on Mar 15, 2013
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01/09/2014

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Affinity Project: Would you define yourself as a Muslim, and if so, what kind of Islam would yousay you practice amongst the multiplicity of different forms?Peter Lamborn Wilson: Well, I’ve been many things in my life and I don’t renounce any of them.But I don’t necessarily practice any of them on a daily basis either. I never renounced Christianityor if I did, I take it back. I’ve been involved in Tantric things that I guess you could call Hinduism,although that’s a very vague term. I practice Shia Islam. I still consider myself all those things but,obviously that’s a difficult position to take vis-a-vis the orthodox practitioners of these differentfaiths. So, if I had to define my position now in terms that would be historically meaningful in anIslamic context, I would refer to Hazrat Inayat Khan and his idea of universalism, that all religionsare true. And if this involves contradiction, as Emerson said, OK. We’ll just deal with it on adifferent level. And the inspiration for this in his case was Indian synchrotism, between Hinduismand Islam especially, although other religions were involved too such as Christianity, Judaism andothers. This happened on both a non-literate level of the peasantry and still persists to this day onthat level, and also occurred on a very high level of intellectual Sufism which was almost a courtlything at certain times, especially under some of the wilder Mughal rulers like Akbar who startedDin-i Ilahi. So these things have precedents within the Islamic traditions, this universalism, thisradical tolerance would be another way of putting it, but nowadays of course it’s hard to find this praxis on the ground. I can’t practice some Indian village cult here, that would be a little — well Isort of do, you know — but actually (laughs), it’s highly personal.AP: Would you say that it’s radically tolerant or radically accepting? I would say that there is adistinction between tolerance and acceptance.PLW: I know what you’re getting at. Tolerance in this sense is a kind of weak position, andacceptance would be a strong position?AP: I would say that, for example, I can tolerate homosexuals, Muslim homosexuals, or I can saywell I accept them in the fold of Islam because they define themselves as Muslim.PLW: Using the term in that sense, what I mean by radical tolerance is what you’re callingacceptance. In other words it’s not just ecumenicalism here. It’s not a reformist position. It’s a prettyradical position. And it got Hazrat Inayat Khan in a lot of trouble amongst orthodox Muslims. Thismovement still suffers from that today. But in India, there is this tradition of that, it still persists inIndia more than in other countries where the fundamentalist/reformist/modernist thing has sweptaway the so-called medieval creations which make up all the charm and difference. That’s whatthey hate.AP: What is it that interested or intrigued you in Islam in particular? And I believe you wereintroduced to it in Morocco, was it?PLW: Well really, in New York. This goes back to the 60s and my involvement in one of the — Iguess you could say — new religions of that era which came out of Moor Science tradition. I don’tknow if you’ve read any of my stuff on this. So already in New York I was taking an interest inthese things.AP: And why was that?PLW: Well, because I got contact into that movement and also began to read Al-Ghazali on therecommendation of some of the people in that movement and we all became very interested intrying to find out whether there was such a thing as living Sufism. This was the 60s, there was no‘new-age’ there on the ground. None of these people were so visibly active. Anyway, we didn’t findthem. So that was one of my reasons for going to the East.AP: Well that’s one of the things that is associated with Al-Ghazali, especially with regards to thefact that he was considered, or considered himself to be a Sufi. And then I believe that before he had
 
 passed away he had become a Sunni. And then he began to take more of a Sunni sort of path, andhighlighted nonetheless of Sufism and the spiritual element with regards to the necessity of spirituality, the return to Islam.PLW: Yeah sure, he was a great intellectual epitome of that position in a lot of ways. But we weren’treading him from that point of view because we weren’t reading him from inside Islam. We werereading
The Alchemy of Happiness
and it was psychadelic. It was like, “Hey, why are we readingthis
Tibetan Book of the Dead 
stuff, this is really far out.” And it’s only years later that I came to seeAl-Ghazali as this bastion of orthodoxy within Sufism. And this is how he’s perceived in thetradition, you’re quite right. But that isn’t how we were reading it. And we got hold of a few other things some Ibn Arabi, very little, but we weren’t scholars, we weren’t Islamologists. There weresuch people around but they never would have occurred to us.AP: But obviously in Islam, and I’m sure you’re aware of this, is the concept of Ijithad...PLW: More in Shi’ism.AP: ...the fact that it is the duty of every Muslim, male or female, child or eldery, to strive to get toknow more about Islam, more about the world, etc., as much as s/he can. Is that one of the thingsthat interested you as well is that it’s sort of an infinitum of desire to learn, to know what is theresponsibility of every single individual — not just a particular scholar — and therefore removingthe element of authority that exists within Islam?PLW: I don’t know whether I grasp that very fully in my initial contacts with the thing, because Iwasn’t reading Islam, I wasn’t reading Sufism per se. So in other words these dialectical aspectsthat you’re pointing out here were not so clear to me at the beginning. They’re very clear to menow, I could almost say in a retrospective position, which I might take now. In that sense yes,obviously, this is one of the key elements that makes certain aspects of Islam interesting to certainaspects of anarchism, that precise thing which is often being called ‘democracy.’ Sociologists wouldlabel this as a ‘democratic tendency’ within Islam as compared to other religions and they would point out that the Ulema, although technically speaking do not occupy an authoritarian position, in practice often do. And especially now.AP: Why do you think that is? Why do you think that turns out?PLW: Well, I don’t know. It’s like the old saying, Sufism was once reality without a name and nowit’s a name without reality. We could talk about this in a completely Islamic way as the corruptionand decline of the true original Islam, which for Sufism is not fundamentalist but is Sufi. The realorigins are mystical origins. That’s just the sociology of institutions from a secular point of view,what we’re looking at is that institutions that become authoritarian, especially when they last for thousands of years. Yes?AP: Yeah.PLW: We could go on, we could go into Maxine Rodinson’s critique of Islam as not having enoughof a doctrinal framework to really be considered as opposed to capitalism. Have you read him?AP: No, I haven’t read him on Islam but I think with regards to the aspect of the anti-capitalistsentiments that exist within Islam, particularly with a pillar of Islam which is Zakat and the way of Islam...PLW: And again, Shi’ism adds ‘social justice’ to the pillars, so if you combine those two you get asAli Shariati did, you get the possibility of an Islamic socialism with strong non-authoritariantendencies.AP: Would you say an Islamic socialism or an Islamic anarchism?PLW: No, in his case socialism. He did not go all the way to anarchism. He was interested, I think,in some anarchist thinkers but he didn’t see that as... he was looking for something practical for Iran, I think, and as much as possible he embraced Sufism and anti-authoritarianism. His movement
 
didn’t, particularly; I’m talking about him as an individual thinker whom I find quite interesting andeven sympathetic in a lot of ways. And I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him when I was in Iran.AP: Tell me, would you see the nodes of intersection that could become, in sort of Deleuze andGuattari’s terms, lines of flight between Islam and anarchism? What do you see between both thesemovements?PLW: Well, in my own work, I’ve tended to concentrate on the heretical penumbra. ExtremeSufism, Ishmaelism. If orthodox Sunni Islam is going to be taken as the norm, then this is not thenorm. I would question this whole picture, but it is the picture of Islamology so let’s just go with itand say, as I myself have said in subtitling my books on Islam and heresy, ‘On the Margins of Islam,’ and I think it’s here in the penumbral aspects, the illumination around the dark body, that theinteresting intersections occur. Now I was criticized in
 Fifth Estate
by Barkley, for talking aboutSufism as an anarchistoid element in Islam. He proposed a sort of Islamic puritanism and itsdemocratic structure as something closer to anarchism. I was respectful of his critique, but on theother hand I had to disagree. I find the whole puritannical thing unsympathetic. It’s freedom onevery level that I’m interested in, not just freedom in the assembly. So this I find amongst the wilddervishes.AP: Well it’s the aspect that, if there’s no compulsion in religion, how can there be compulsion withregards to anything?PLW: And it’s not often written because of the dangers of writing some of these things. It’sexpressed in poetry, poetry has the license for this. And you can say, as Mahmud Shabistari said, if Muslims only understood the truth they wouldn’t become idol-worshippers. Did he get away withit? I don’t think they killed him, because it was poetry.AP: There’s a lot of songs, too.PLW: Yeah, because all Persian and Urdu, and I suppose Arabic poetry too, if it’s written in atraditional meter, it can be sung to traditional modes. And certain meters are connected to certainmodes. So you even have the tune already laid out. And then it’s just up to you to do interestingvariations on it. A Bardic reality which lacks into the Elizabethan period in the West.AP: I spent some time with Naqshbandi Sufis in Montreal. What astonished me was that after a particular period of time, spending time with them, when I was actually considering embracingmore of the Sufi elements that exist within Islam, I was a bit taken back by the issue of the Bayiah,which is the allegiance and the quest for allegiance. What do you think about that?PLW: Well I’ve written about this. A very important influence has been the whole Uwaisi tradition,which is the anti-guru tradition within Sufism. This is based on the idea that you can seek initiationon the spiritual plane, such as in dreams or like the the Uwaisis in Turkey were actually influenced by Shamanism, they would actually meet magical animals or ghosts who would initiate them, andJulian Baldic wrote a nice book about this called Imaginary Muslims...AP: I’m assuming those magical animals were not Djinn.PLW: Well yeah, sure they were Djinn. And some of the Djinns were believers, too. Dealing withDjinns is not like necromancy, in the Christian West. Dealing with Djinn can be white magic, quiteeasily. This is why hermeticism is an easier time within traditional Islam than it has been withintraditional Christian cultures.AP: Where do you see Islam going, especially post-9/11? Where do you see Islam going on its own,and I’d like to hear your comments on what you expect that, for example, what Islam can bring tothe table that something like anarchism can not bring to the table? Or vice-versa?PLW: Well that’s sort of crystal ball stuff, which has to be taken with a grain of salt (which is alsocrystal). I don’t see much good ahead in Islamic culture or in the Western culture so it’s hard tocompare them in that sense. Sufism and radical tolerance and all these ideas seem to be on the

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